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Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Piano Music, Volume 4: Bachianas Brasilieras No. 4 (1930-41) [19’43]; Poema singelo (1938-42) [6’05]; Carnaval des Criançasa (1920) [15’24]; Prencette et Piá (1928) [15’32]; A Fiandiera (1921) [2’52]; Simples Coletânea (1917-19) [6’02]; Valsa romântica (1907) [3’44].
Sonua Rubinsky, aTatjana Rankovich (pianos).
Rec. Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto, Canada, on October 17th-20th, 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.555717 [69’53]

Sonia Rubinsky is a player of much talent and great sensitivity. Her affinity with the music of her native Brazil is clear (she subsequently moved to Jerusalem to study – Rubin Academy – then on to Juilliard for a doctorate). Her playing is simply superb, be it in Villa-Lobosian Brazilian nostalgia or sheer extrovert Latin American inspired virtuosity.

Bachianas brasileiras No. 4 continues the series of works of this title that unite Brazilian music with a Bachian purity. On the surface a curious mix, as anyone who has heard these pieces knows, it is in fact and inspired one. The achingly nostalgic Préludio (1941) exemplifies the pure side of the coin (the appearance of a Choral as the second movement is a logical step). Rubinsky projects a sense of grandeur of architecture in a piece that lasts 4’33. If the Aria is solemn too (although more animated later on), the finale invokes Ginastera in its abandon, but also calls to mind the minimalists in its right-hand repeated patterns. Perhaps a tad more letting down of the hair is called for than Rubinsky can manage in the studio (live something tells me she would pull it off and bring the house down). Gripping listening nonetheless.

Carnaval des Crianças exemplifies Villa-Lobos’ penchant for writing simple works for children. Yet the simplicity is born of mastery; these pieces exude charm and confidence and are simple exquisitely crafted. And Rubinsky and Tatjana Rankovich’s playing more than adequately reflects this. There is more than a touch of the Debussy of Children’s Corner here (especially in the textural transparency of the fifth movement, ‘As Peripécias do Trapeirozinho’ – ‘The Little Ragpiper’s Adventures’). The last piece in this collection (and the last piece of Francette et Piá) is for piano duet and for these Rubinsky is joined by Tatjana Rankovich (on whom the booklet is silent). For the Carnival, this final piece invokes a Children’s Band, and emerges as appropriately celebrational here. The collection Francette et Piá comprises ten pieces (unfortunately not separately tracked here). The final duet symbolises the union of the two persons of the title (‘Francette et Piá jouent pour toujours’ – ‘Francette et Piá play together for ever’). There is something very appealing about Villa-Lobos’ eloquent simplicity, folkloristic at times, naïve at others.

The other collection on this disc is Simples Coletânea (‘Simple Collection’). Only three pices this time, Valse mistica (1917), Num Berço Encantando (‘In an Enchanted Cradle’, 1918) and Rhodante (‘Round Dance’, 1919). Good that the mystic waltz is as the title directs without too much shrouding in pedal. ‘In an Enchanted Cradle’ is an enchanting lullaby.

Naxos has intelligently programmed a few miniatures to separate the various collections on this disc. Poema Singelo (‘Simple Song’) contains a more turbulent contrastive section but remains long on charm. Rubinsky’s refusal to dally pays huge dividends. A Fiandeira (‘The Spinner’) is a delightful sound-portrait complete with wheeling figures. Yet Villa-Lobos paints his picture sensitively and evocatively - the voice of the composer is never in doubt.

Great to round off the recital with Valsa Romântica of 1907, a lovely, gentle and melancholy-laden way to close the disc.

Recommended listening. The recording is excellent.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Paul Shoemaker

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